With e-commerce putting purchases at everyone's digital fingertips, many consumers prefer to shop at home without spending more time than necessary in a brick-and-mortar retail outlet.
More car dealerships are willing to meet those consumers at least halfway by streamlining the digital shopping process.
One auto retailer that has embraced the shop-click-buy approach is Raymond Auto Group, which owns Kia, Chevrolet and Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge-Ram stores in Antioch and Fox Lake, Ill.
The digital initiative is about convenience and improving the buying experience, says Mark Scarpelli, president of Raymond Chevrolet and Raymond Kia in Antioch and co-owner with his brother of Ray Chevrolet and Ray Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge-Ram in Fox Lake.
"There are consumers who like the online process much better than coming into a store," Scarpelli, chairman of the National Automobile Dealers Association, said in a phone interview. "That population is new to reach for dealers and a bonus in incremental sales."
The new digital storefront has been in operation only since April, but has been responsible for 30 to 35 new- or used-vehicle sales per month, he said. In 2016, Raymond Auto Group sold 2,029 new and 1,349 used vehicles.
Customers can initiate and negotiate the sale online, get information on financing options, complete a credit application, get an estimate of their monthly payment, figure out the value of their trade-in and get everything approved.
Messages come through a centralized business development center, which also sets up service appointments and handles other customer interactions, and are routed to the relevant departments at each dealership. After that, the customer simply visits the store, signs the paperwork and drives out — after a test drive and a briefing on how to use the vehicle's features.
Honorio Diaz, the group's director of business development, said the company has just started advertising the shopping tool and expects online transactions to grow.
"It doesn't eliminate the face-to-face interaction," but it means less waiting, Diaz said. "What irks customers the most is time."
Diaz said the program took about two months to develop, with hours of internal strategy meetings and legal reviews, followed by lots of collaboration with the group's advertising company and website vendor to write software code and execute the plan.
Each step had to be carefully mapped and explained so the process is transparent to the customer. Diaz said, "We want them to be fully aware of what's going on and make sure nothing is misinterpreted."